Philly launches training program to grow and diversify electric vehicle workforce

A pre-apprenticeship program will aim to help people become electricians focused on electric vehicle chargers.

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A close-up of a vehicle charging with an electric charger.

File photo: A vehicle is plugged into a Electrify America electric vehicle charger, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, in Kennesaw, Ga., near Atlanta. The city of Philadelphia is introducing a new program to grow and diversify the electric vehicle workforce. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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The city of Philadelphia plans to recruit and train several dozen people to install electric vehicle chargers.

Officials hope to build a bigger and more diverse workforce of electricians who can create a charging station network across the region.

“It’s a great career,” said Mary Gaffney, board president of the National Association of Women in Construction’s Philly chapter, a partner on the project.

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The city of Philadelphia got a nearly $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation to launch a pilot workforce development program called “Plug In Philly.”

The initiative, co-led by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, will consist of a pre-apprenticeship program to prepare participants for other specialized training. A total of 45 people will participate in three cohorts over two years.

“This initiative harnesses the potential for underserved Philadelphians to obtain pathways to jobs, careers and self-sufficiency,” Mayor Cherelle Parker said in a statement. “The pre-apprenticeship model will provide participants with training in an electric vehicle field that is booming, and provide increased pathways to local unions responsible for building and maintaining Philadelphia’s infrastructure.”

In Philly, the prevailing wage for electricians working on construction projects done on behalf of the city is over $68 an hour.

The Biden administration has set a goal of 500,000 public EV chargers across the country by 2030, with high-speed chargers every 50 miles along major roadways.

Electricians are key to the installation and maintenance of residential and public EV chargers. Electrician jobs are expected to grow around 7% from 2021 to 2031 — roughly average compared to other occupations — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But in a city where building trades unions long excluded Black workers, the field is dominated by white men. Only around 14% of electricians working on city projects are people of color and fewer than 1% are female, said Patricia Blumenauer, chief operating officer at PhilaWorks, another city partner on the program.

Because communities of color tend to disproportionately breathe pollution from gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks, these communities should benefit from transportation electrification, said Dr. Shelley Francis, co-founder and managing partner of EVNoire, a consulting company focused on electric mobility best practices and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“It makes sense to make sure that we are engaging these communities and providing them with workforce and development opportunities to improve their career trajectory, improve their economic trajectory as well, so that they can benefit from this proliferation of resources and funding,” Francis said.

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The Plug In Philly initiative will include outreach in particular to female, Black, Indigenous and other job seekers of color currently working low-wage jobs, according to the city’s announcement. One long-term goal of the program is to increase the number of female and BIPOC electricians working on city public works projects by 2030.

Finding the time and resources to train for emerging careers related to the energy transition can be a barrier for working-class Philadelphians dealing with the daily struggles of energy, housing and food insecurity, said Jamir Hubbard, a climate justice and jobs organizer with the activist group POWER Interfaith. He called the Plug In Philly announcement a “small step in the right direction.”

“Leaving behind dirty fossil fuels that run our cars is good news. It’s a chance to create new green jobs in our economy,” Hubbard said. “It’s good that we’re working toward our decarbonization goals.”

Plug In Philly will include “demand-side programming” to help graduates get placed in EV supply and equipment careers, according to the city’s announcement. Hubbard suggested installation of EV chargers outside homes be incorporated into popular weatherization and home repair assistance programs.  

Plug In Philly will fund an expansion of the construction summer camp for girls the National Association of Women in Construction’s Philly chapter runs, with more girls able to participate and a new section about electric vehicles.

“They meet other women that are trade women in those careers, and they get to talk to them,” Gaffney said. “Then they build something so they’re actually getting hands-on experience.”

To EVNoire’s Francis, Plug In Philly sounds like it could become a model that is emulated around the region. But in order for it to succeed, it will need to gather and incorporate feedback from community organizations and its target audience.

“So that [the city] understands like ‘Hey, what are some of the systemic barriers or some of the opportunities that would either impede this type of program from being successful — or will help be a facilitating factor to ensuring its success?’” Francis said.

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